Monday, August 31, 2009

Party Time

I wanted to give an update to my Aug. 23 post. So far, making myself earn my meals has been working well. I get up in the morning, try to drink water before I have my coffee, and have a healthy breakfast (whole grain cereal or fruit and eggs, for example). At work I wait until I am feeling pretty hungry and then get as healthy a lunch as I can in the cafeteria. Then, I either walk the dog or do another active task before dinner, and I make myself clean up the whole kitchen before I settle down to have dessert (yogurt or a light fudgesicle).

Now, it hasn't been working every day — one afternoon last week, the fresh blackberries I had brought for a snack turned out to have mold on one or two of them, so in a moment of insanity I got a bag of peanut M&Ms and a cereal bar from the vending machine and scarfed them down. But, for the most part, I am feeling more energetic and productive, because I am keeping myself busier with earning my next meal.

It's also helping me be more mindful of what I eat. I noticed a dramatic difference on Saturday when I had to attend two birthday parties in the same day, one in the afternoon and one that evening. Normally, parties are a recipe for nutritional disaster for me. But this time, I had a healthy breakfast that morning, then a salad for lunch and a soy-milk latte for a snack before the first party. Then, all I had was less than one bottle of Miller Lite and small piece of the birthday cake with no icing. At the second party, there was barbecue, so I had the grilled fish and veggies, a few small fried vegetarian items, a couple of beers and literally just a few sips of a vodka and Sprite.

By the end of the night I still felt energetic and not at all how I usually feel after a birthday party — bloated, stuffed and vaguely ill. When I woke up the next morning, I did have a tiny hangover, probably more from lack of sleep than anything else, but after some juice, boiled egg and fruit for breakfast, it was gone. I was so impressed with this accidental discovery that I kept talking about it to my fiancé the next day. I hope I remember this the next time a party rolls around.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Redeeming my day

This afternoon, I decided to visit a more expensive grocery store than we usually go to, because we had a $10 coupon that expires today. During the car ride to the store, I was feeling proud of myself for finally remembering to take with me the earth-friendly grocery bags that have been sitting in my pantry for months. Then, right as I exited my car, I realized I had forgotten the coupon.

I weighed my options (go back home and get the coupon, shop without the coupon, or forget the grocery shopping altogether) and decided to go ahead and get a few things without the coupon. I was feeling pretty irritated with myself, because I chronically forget things like this and I don't know why.

As I walked toward the store, I saw two kids throwing bark from the store's landscaping at a passing car, a woman with Down Syndrome stopping to tie her tennis shoe, and several bags of roasted green chile peppers sitting outside on a display table covered in that crushed grocery-store ice.

Then I entered the store and saw all the lovely stacks of fresh produce and fruit. I bought some red organic tomatoes on the vine that were on sale. I took a number at the seafood counter and, when the guy punched the machine twice instead of once, causing it to skip right over my number, I waved my little #17 paper in the air and said, "You skipped number 17." With a straight face, he joked that he was just checking to see if we (the customers) were paying attention. Then he gave me the more expensive salmon at the price of the one on sale.

I wandered over to the bulk section and filled a clear plastic bin with roasted almonds so fresh they practically pop when you chew them. I filled a brown paper bag with whole coffee beans that I am looking forward to grinding and steeping in hot water in my French press tomorrow morning. I stopped suddenly mid-aisle to turn my cart around, not noticing the man behind me, who pulled back his cart to make room for me and said, "I brake for pretty girls!" (It's always nice to receive a completely unexpected compliment.)

By this time I didn't care anymore that I had forgotten the coupon. It's a privilege to be able to shop at such a nice grocery store, to be able to buy good, fresh food and bring it home. I left the store in a great mood.

As it turns out, I was able to have my cake and eat it too, because my fiancé and I stopped by the same grocery store again later this evening, on our way home from the dog park, and this time I remembered to bring the coupon.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bon appetit

I have been out of town (hence the missing blog posts from the last couple of days). However, I have been thinking about what I would write when I returned — so here it is.

Before my dog gets her breakfast, we usually take her for a walk around the block. Before she gets her dinner at night, she has to wait until my fiancé and I finish our meal. Before we actually set the bowl of food down in front of her, she has to sit or lie down or do whatever other cue we ask of her. Before she gets a treat, she has to perform a cue or a trick. You get the idea.

So, why don't I treat myself the same way? Why don't I make myself take a walk or clean the kitchen or wait until I am truly hungry to earn my grub? If I did, I would appreciate my food more, I would get more exercise, and I would reduce overeating.

The idea is not original, of course — my brother told me the very same thing recently but I dismissed it. And no doubt many other people have had this idea before he did. But now the idea has had time to percolate in my mind, and it just struck me the other day as being an especially good suggestion. So, I am going to try it.

We just returned home from our trip out of town, and when I came home I was tempted to do my usual habit — grab a snack even though I am not really hungry but rather am looking for a way to occupy myself. Instead, I decided to put a load of laundry in the washing machine and work on my blog for an hour until I am truly hungry.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


In 2007, I visited Kaieteur Falls, in Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America. We took a tiny plane that reeked of petrol out to the rainforest, and when we stepped into view of the waterfall, it was breathtaking. There is no way this photo does it justice, but here it is:

Kaieteur is the tallest single-drop waterfall in the world, and despite the searing hot sun, the water was icy cold. As I stood there, overlooking a lush canyon and misty clouds, I breathed in deeply and thought to myself that this was probably the cleanest, most unpolluted air I had ever breathed. Here is the edge of the falls:

Beneath it (as I learned tonight while watching the Werner Herzog film White Diamond) is a massive, unexplored cave where perhaps a million white-tipped swifts live.

While I can't fly into the cave like those birds can, I did fly over the falls in the plane, and this was our view:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Black Dog in the Winter Sun

Here's a lovely excerpt from an e-mail that my brother, who is living in Australia, sent me today:

"I was walking down the CBD [Central Business District] streets this morning at 10:00 and there was a black dog stretched out in the sun on the sidewalk just chilling, completely happy & sleepy-eyed, (probably waiting for his owner in a shop,) making the pedestrians walk around him because he was in his spot in the sun & no one was gonna make him move over into the shade along the wall of the storefront. And people did walk around him."

Imagining that contented dog sprawled in the sunshine halfway across the world filled me with happiness.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Around 9:15 tonight, I took my dog out for a quick stroll down the street. She found a particularly interesting spot in the grass to sniff. As I stood on the sidewalk holding the red leash, I heard the sweet tinkling of a metal wind chime down the road somewhere, and from across the empty lot separating my street from the next, a woman called out — for her own dog, I imagine — "Come on, Baxter," and clapped her hands twice.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Aromatherapy for Dinner

I usually don't cook. Either my fiancé cooks, we go out for dinner, or we get takeout. But this evening I poured myself a glass of red wine and got started on a Greek potato-zucchini casserole from my Weight Watchers vegetarian cookbook.

I crushed and chopped the cloves of garlic first. Then I chopped the fresh dill, and took in that distinctive aroma with a deep breath. The parsley was next — a pleasing, grassy scent — and after that the onions. Then the small potatoes, which smelled earthy, like water and dirt. I sliced the zucchini into long green strips and did the same with the bell peppers.

When I poured the can of diced tomatoes into the herb mixture, the tart scent hit my nostrils, and I bent down to sniff the combination of dill, parsley, garlic and tomato. I added salt and pepper, and the mixture went into the casserole dish along with the sliced vegetables. By this point, my glass of wine was empty.

The dish baked in the oven for an hour and a half, and then I sprinkled feta cheese on top and baked it for another quarter hour. It's now cooling on the stovetop, and will spend the night in the refrigerator waiting to be divided into portions for lunch tomorrow and the day after.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Roadkill Goes Green

Nearby my house, the frontage road feeding traffic into the highway is actually more elevated than the highway itself, which means the frontage road slopes downward. This evening, my fiancé and I had just entered the frontage road in his car; he was driving. He suddenly said, "Did they just steal that tree?" I looked left through his driver's side window and saw a black pick-up truck. It had just driven off the grassy median between the frontage road and the highway and had entered the right lane of traffic — with a tree on top of it. The tree must have been close to 20 feet long. The truck of the tree wasn't very thick — maybe less than a foot — but the tree was long enough to span the length of the truck, from the hood to the back.

At first glance, we thought the tree was tied on top of the truck as cargo. We quickly realized, after seeing damage on the truck's front bumper, that the driver hadn't stolen the tree. He had hit it.

A second later, the truck veered toward the frontage road, its wheels hitting the side of the median, and the tree slid off the top of the truck and directly into our path. My fiancé braked, as the truck sped off down the highway. We manuvered around the tree and entered the right lane. We immediately saw the truck's black bumper, which had just fallen off and was rolling around in the middle of the highway. Up ahead, we could see smoke billowing from the truck as it sped out of our sight.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting Friendly

A good friend can make a lot of not-very-exciting things fun, even staying home on a Friday night.

I was tired after work tonight, and I had an errand or two to run, so I told my fiancé to go ahead and go to the movies with his friend (they saw District 9 and loved it). I decided to stay home. As I was making my grilled cheese and tomato sandwich for dinner, a good friend of mine called, and we had a long conversation — probably around an hour — during which I nibbled on my sandwich and sipped a glass of nice red wine. Just that conversation was enough to make my evening feel enough like a Friday night that I didn't feel so bad about skipping the movie.

I remember once when I was laid off from a job, another friend of mine, whom I've known since the sixth grade, invited me over for dinner. The simple act of having me over for a home-cooked meal was enough to take the edge off of how horrible I was feeling after the layoff earlier that day.

Good friends are truly like family. Be grateful for them!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Too Pretty to Open?

A well-wrapped present is a work of art.

I love giving gifts (and getting them, too, of course!) and I admire those creative, decorative, eye-pleasing wrappings you see in craft books or Martha Stewart magazines. So, with my gift to my parents for their 34th wedding anniversary, I decided to try it for myself. I enlisted my fiancé to help me cut out red felt hearts, and I strung them along shiny green ribbon that I wrapped around the gift. I think it turned out rather cute. Judge for yourself:

When we got to my parents' house, my fiancé set up the gift on their kitchen table with candles, wine and bonbons, just to be funny:

This first try was fun, and I don't care whether Martha Stewart would be impressed or not (I'm guessing not). However, I do hope to improve my awesome-gift-wrapping skills between now and the holidays. Wrapping and giving presents is actually lots more fun than receiving them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Kitchen Mat

The reason I started this blog is to give myself a daily opportunity to ponder and appreciate the simple moments in life.

A kitchen mat is simple, wouldn't you agree?

When my dog was a puppy, she destroyed our cheerful kitchen rug. So since then, we've gone without one. But I loved the way that rug brightened up our wood and stainless steel kitchen. Here's a picture of it, before she chewed it up:

But now that she's older, and less likely to destroy another mat, I had been keeping my eye out for a new one. On Sunday, my fiancé and I walked into Crate & Barrel on a whim, and he picked out a rug that, while not quite as cheerful as the original, definitely adds some much-needed color to our kitchen. Just simply having a new rug in my kitchen gave me a bit of happiness today as I was cooking a summer vegetable stew for dinner, and it caused me to remember my goal of savoring anything in life that brings me happiness.

One thing that brings me happiness every day? My dog. Yes, even when she's chewing up household items. Here she is on the new mat:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Pen Pal in Tasmania

There's a hilarious episode of The IT Crowd in which the three main characters join a social networking site called "Friendface" and end up as social outcasts, feverishly clacking away on their computer keyboards to communicate with one another online rather than in person, even while sitting in the same room. So, yes, sometimes technology can isolate us.

However, my brother told me today during our phone call that a couple of weeks ago he posted his address on Facebook along with a plea for letters, which he meant as a sort of joke. About 10 days later, though, he was very surprised to find two letters from old high school friends in his mailbox. Now, my brother currently lives in Tasmania, so that means these old friends of his, whom he hasn't seen in years, saw his Facebook post and almost immediately wrote, stamped and mailed their letters, which then had about a 10-day journey from the U.S. to this Australian island state.

I'd call it a definite case of technology helping to alleviate isolation rather than cause it. Of course, it does take a human hand to actually write, stamp, mail and deliver those letters.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tuna in 3D?

Here's a lighter note related to my recent blog posts about filmmaker Wim Wenders and a "sense of place": Tonight my fiancé and I went out to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the movie theatre. One aspect I love about the Harry Potter series of films is that Hogwarts and the hidden magic city and the Weasley house are so full of character that those place are characters in the movie. Or at least they feel that way to me. I mean, can't you just feel the dust on the books and shelves when Harry and Hermoine and Ron enter any room in the school? Can't you sense the cosiness and homey atmosphere in Ron's parents' house? Can't you imagine all the streets where the students shop for wands and other magical accessories, how they might be quiet and empty at night with a few candles burning here and there, or in the morning before the shopkeepers arrive to open the stores?

At the movie theatre, we missed the earlier, regular showing of Harry Potter and thus had to pay $10 extra to see the IMAX 3D version. The ticket-seller gave us fair warning that the movie is only in 3D for the first 12 minutes. Actually, the 3D was pretty cool. Made me feel old-fashioned and hip at the same time. Here we are with our rad 3D glasses:

Before we went to the movie, my fiancé made me a delicious dinner — arugula salad with beets, orange slices, chickpeas and rare-cooked tuna steak. As my sister (who loves tuna steak) told me, I am a lucky lady!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

It's My Party

My fiancé and I were trying to plan my 30th birthday party this evening. We tossed around ideas include renting a beach house for the weekend with friends (would be fun, but beach houses can be expensive), doing a pub crawl around our neighborhood (would be a good excuse to explore the plethora of new bars and lounges popping up around us), and renting a cabin in the Texas hill country for a weekend (would be relaxing but many of my friends can't go out of town for a weekend due to kids, jobs, etc.).

I don't want to do the usual going-out-to-a-restaurant-with-friends or the typical throw-a-party-at-home-and-invite-people-over. This is a milestone birthday for me, and I want to celebrate it differently. The trick is figuring out what I am more likely to be in the mood for by the time my birthday rolls around — a relaxing weekend away with few or no other people with us, or a night spent roaming from one loud, crowded bar to another with lots of friends along for the fun. Perhaps there is another option we haven't thought of yet that will be a perfect middle path between the two.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

More Places

I'm following up on yesterday's post now that I've had some time to think a little more about how I interpreted Wim Wenders' Princeton speech. So, how does the place you grow up, or the place you choose to live, turn you into part of its story by shaping you as a person?

I believe your environment can be so important to how you feel, think, and live. It's not all-important, of course — your mental state and attitude, your health, your family and friends, and many other factors affect your life as well. But if I hadn't grown up in Houston, how would I be different? If I hadn't been an immigrant to this country with strong ties back to Europe, how would I be different? If I had moved to another city for college, how would that have changed me? If I decide to move to another state or country in the future, how will that change me?

Wim Wenders is right, in the sense that every place is an entity that exerts its influence over its inhabitants. When you watch a movie with a strong sense of place, you can see how the characters in the story are shaped and affected by the city or area in which they live. That's why I sometimes get mental chills when I think about some of the homogeneous suburban shopping areas around Houston — bland, drab strip malls that are so devoid of a sense of place that they could be anywhere in this huge city or state. And that's also why I am sometimes intimidated by the areas in Houston that are the opposite — they are so infused with a sense of place that I feel out of place sometimes; I didn't grow up in these neighborhoods, I don't know my way around, and I don't know where all the little shops and bars and restaurants are tucked away.

So, I am trying to allow myself to become part of these places. I am trying to learn my way around and try more new shops and restaurants. I am letting this neighborhood I now call home show me its story.

Friday, August 07, 2009

My Places

Anyone who has lived anywhere can perhaps relate to this notion of "a sense of place" that the German filmmaker Wim Wenders discussed in this talk he gave at Princeton University. For me, two areas evoke a strong sense of place: the Houston suburb where I spent most of my childhood, and some places in Holland, where I spent many vacations visiting my grandparents and other relatives.

I don't know what kind of movie Wim Wenders might make about the modest little town in Holland where I was born, or what he might think of the neighborhood in Houston where I spent my childhood — although I plan to watch his movie Paris, Texas soon to see how he portrays the nearby town of Port Arthur. Of course, based on his talk at Princeton, he wouldn't look at those places as parts of the story of my life, the way I do. He might look at me as part of their stories.

But from my perspective, the places where I grew up are so deeply rooted in my mind that sometimes, when I think about them, I can actually feel for a moment like I am there, even when I am 5,000 miles away.

My favorite Dutch beach:

One of the more beautiful areas in my Dutch hometown:

The street outside my grandmother's apartment:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Sign

On my way home from work today, I drove through a freeway underpass to make a U-turn. Sitting on the sloped edge of the underpass, where the concrete sidewalk next to the U-turn lane begins to march upward to the underside of the freeway above, was a man. He was writing on a piece of cardboard resting on his knees.

I often see men, and sometimes women, standing at intersections holding cardboard signs asking for money or, more rarely, food. They usually include the words "God Bless" and some kind of symbol, like a cross or smiley face. Never before, however, have I seen one of those signs being created.

Not until my commute was nearly over did I think to ask myself, "I wonder what his sign said?"

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Give Up

My dog has learned how to open doors that swing outward. This is a big deal because previously, she only knew how to open doors that swung into the room, meaning that she could wiggle the knob with her paw and then push the door inward.

Tonight, I decided to take a bath, so I closed the bathroom door, thinking it would keep her out while I relaxed with my magazine and glass of white wine (made from organic grapes!). But, she wiggled the doorknob enough to crack open the door, and then she nosed her way in. So this means no door is impenetrable for her now, unless it's locked.

After she broke in, she began licking my elbow profusely — she likes the taste of the L'Occitane bath bubbles that I use.

It's easy to shut out those who care about you — but unlike my dog, most of them won't claw at the door until they get in. Usually, they'll give up.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Kermit the Dog

Tonight, I was sitting in front of my computer struggling to write my daily blog post. My dog kept coming up next to me, pawing at me and whining for attention. She even brought her chew bone over so that I could hold it for her while she gnawed at it (yes, she's spoiled). My irritation level was rising — not with her but with the situation, which at that moment was me unable to write a decent post. I scratched my dog behind the ear and she tilted her head in a way my fiancé and I call the "Kermit face" — she looks just like Kermit the Frog when she does it. Her jowls scrunch up on one side and her mouth gets long. It's a really funny look that makes me chuckle every time.

When I saw the Kermit face, I realized there was something more important than the blog post to occupy myself with. So, I shut my laptop and focused my attention on her. Rather than forcing myself to write about a topic that obviously wasn't coming naturally to me, evidenced by how long I was sitting there thinking about the post, I decided to interrupt the cycle of irritation and enjoy myself. And look, afterward I came up with this totally spontaneous post that you're reading right now! The other one I was working on is saved in my Drafts folder. Who knows, maybe it will make its debut some other day.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Do What You Gotta Do

Today I was in Petsmart after work. While I was was browsing the back aisle in a failed attempt to find the probiotics and digestive enzymes that the holistic vet recommended for my dog, a man with torn blue jeans and a white shirt approached the grooming counter asking for directions somewhere. The girl behind the counter seemed to know the area well, asking him if he'd come up from the north or south direction of a nearby street and trying to help him find his way. He explained that he'd just been hired at a new job and had taken the bus to this part of town to report for work, and now he was lost. I didn't hear the whole conversation, but she did her best to help him and then offered him $2 to pay for another bus ticket. He welcomed the offer but said, "I'm not trying to ask for money." She told him not to worry about it — "You do what you gotta do," she said.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Relaxing on Two Feet and Four Paws

Tonight I took a stroll with my dog around the block. The humid, hot day had left us with a surprisingly pleasant evening, with a gentle nighttime breeze and charcoal clouds visible in the dark blue sky. The fuschia blossoms decorating the corner of the street looked much different than they do in sunlight; I missed seeing their vibrant sunlit color. But, I enjoyed the tranquility of the dark windows in the houses around me. My dog sniffed the grass, the plants, the telephone poles. We relaxed.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

White Linen Night

I love outdoor community festivals. I like the crush of anonymous faces around me, the live music, the spirit of communal fun. The festival I went to today, White Linen Night in The Heights, is also special because it's a good excuse to go look at art, pottery, jewelry (my fiancé bought me a beautiful pair of pink and gold earrings that I picked out at one of the shops at the festival! At only $12, I couldn't resist), antiques, and other creative or interesting items that one doesn't see during an average shopping trip. That's one thing that makes our area of town so special — it's steeped in creativity. The photo above is of my friend's very artful art car, which took part in this year's annual Art Car Parade held here each spring.